As I write this the Bears are battling the Eagles in something us Lions fans are not very accustomed to: a playoff game. Before we know it, the February Super Bowl will be a distant memory to be followed as usual by a many-month gridiron hiatus broken only by the April draft and summer camps. Yes, the pigskin deep freeze is coming. Or is it? Enter: The Alliance of American Football.
Founded by Charlie Ebersol (son of TV sports producer legend Dick Ebersol) and former Indianapolis Colts Vice Chairman Bill Polian, the new, upstart league hopes to do what its predecessors have failed to do in the past – succeed in the long term. In the 70s there was the World Football League which lasted just over a season. In the 80s the USFL flourished for three years, while, more recently, WWF head Vince McMahon’s XFL tapped out in the same year. For the AAF, the key will be staying in its lane and remaining true to its brand. And, a little fiscal responsibility and league ownership teamwork wouldn’t hurt either.
In 1974, the WFL purse strings were wide open from day one, as teams sought to compete with the NFL for top players. The Miami Dolphins were nearly decimated as three of their top offensive stars, Larry Csonka, Jim Kiick and Paul Warfield jumped ship for millions. Problem was, low fan attendance soon resulted in dry financial coffers and the league folded nearly as quickly as its kick off. While salaries also ran amok in the United States Football League, bringing in the likes of Hershel Walker, Jim Kelly, Steve Young, Doug Flutie and others, this league had bigger issues. The largest was initiated and led (into the ground) by New Jersey Generals owner Donald Trump as the USFL opted to move away from its biggest positive differentiator and draw (spring football) and attempt to compete head-to-head with the National Football League in the Fall. Bad idea.
In an effort to succeed where others have failed, the Alliance of American Football is steadfast in its dedication to play in the football-Saharan months of February, March and April. Salaries will be set at $250,000 per season and players will largely be chosen for each of the league’s eight teams based on geographics (something the USFL also moved away from in a mad dash for top talent) aimed at fostering fan loyalty. Importantly, where Trump and the USFL (and the WFL for that matter) consistently took swings at the NFL behemoth, the AAF will actually serve as something of a developmental league with the two entities cooperating in an effort to bring top talent into the new league while providing reps for those not yet NFL starter-ready.
Will the Alliance of American Football stay true to its brand, its mission, its vision? In order to succeed it must, right along with putting recognizable pro talent on the field and tried and true fan butts in seats. Fun and innovative promotions will also be key. It could actually work this time. After all, stranger things have happened, although its been awhile. 60 years to be exact as something called the American Football League (AFL) debuted in 1960 in cities such as Denver, San Diego, Boston and others. By 1966 it had merged with the NFL and the league we know today. Here’s hoping for the best and a little extra football to enjoy in 2019.